Neelie Kroes: after the death of Aaron Swartz, time to review scientific copyright

23 Jan, 2013

Neelie Kroes blogged today about the death of Aaron Swartz.

Swartz was one of the Reddit co-founders, who later became an internet activist. According to recent tweets on the Wikileaks Twitter account, he was possibly a WikiLeaks source.

In January 2011, Swartz downloaded nearly 5 million scientific papers from a digital library (JSTOR). He did this by connecting to a network switch in a closet at MIT, where he was visiting. He was arrested and prosecuted for 13 charges including wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging a protected computer.

His family now claims that the prosecution was threatening him with 35 years of imprisonement if convicted of all charges and steep (as in: millions of dollars steep) fines. While the prosecution probably took a hard stance to negotiate a plea bargain, apparently the threat of hard time was one of the factors in Swartz’ decision to take his life two weeks ago.

Kroes now says that maybe we should revise the copyright laws that Swartz wanted to protest by downloading the scientific research. She says: “there aren’t copyright issues, when information was already paid for by tax payers.”

Here’s the full text (since it was also paid for by taxpayers, I think Neelie Kroes won’t mind!):

You’ve probably seen the terrible news about the death of Aaron Swartz. It’s always horrifying when someone so young and so clearly talented feels they have no option but to take their own life.  I know that this is something that shook the internet community deeply. And my thoughts are with his family, and what they must be going through right now.

This was a man who saw that greater openness can be good for citizens, and good for society.  Hugely disruptive – but hugely beneficial.

For me, the case is particularly clear when there aren’t copyright issues, when information was already paid for by taxpayers, and when more openness can help new innovations and scientific discoveries.

I would never condone unlawful activity. But in my view, if our laws, frameworks and practices stand in the way of us getting all those benefits, then maybe they need to be changed.

Agree or disagree with his methods, Aaron could see the open direction we’re heading in, and its benefits. In the meantime, those scientists who are paying tribute by making their own work legally, openly available aren’t just showing their respects – they are also benefiting scientific progress.

via Neelie Kroes

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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